Category Archives: ethics

Aside

The Walking Dead, saison 1I am a major fan of The Walking Dead. I’m not usually into zombies, but something about this show seems to do it for me. For all those who watch, the characters (those not yet undead) are faced with the choice between embracing the death growing inside them or living with the hope that life is still good and worth living . Some choose to dive into this world of walking death with full force, capitulating to its apparent hopelessness and choosing to leave their lives of kindness, generosity and trust behind. Others remain hopeful, seeking to treat the people they meet as they would like to be treated (welcoming them, killing off zombies for them, etc). This sort is the minority.

The main character on The Walking Dead, at least for now, is a man named Rick. He is the leader of a group of survivors (folks who have yet to fall prey to the zombie apocalypse), and is often forced to make decisions as to whether or not he should welcome strangers in or cast them away to fend for themselves. More often than not (as of late) Rick trusts no one, tending to throw others out into the streets rather than welcome them in (as had been previously done for him twice before).

The more time that goes by, the more survivors fall victim to the death that is permeating the world. Rick and his companions are fighting a losing battle, constantly struggling to make it through another day.  All the while folks are being driven to insanity, losing the version of themselves that would stick out their neck for a person to whom they had no particular allegiance.

Our pre-apocalyptic world is not so different. So many of us wake up without expectation, without hope. Our day ends with the swipe of our brow and a prayer of thanks that God got us through another one. We don’t seem to live for the thrill that somehow our whole wretched existence might just be turned upside-down. In fact, most of the decisions we make have a desired outcome of creating a more comfortable life.

Many, if not most people are in search of stability. There’s a steady longing for peace and certainty that comes with being human, but it seems to me that the life God has invited us into is not quite so stable. It is clearly more dangerous to embrace a life of faith, to believe that love is worth it. It killed Jesus, and it’s been known to kill one too many Walking Dead characters.

The way of love and non-judgment (a.k.a the narrow way) is as difficult as it gets. It doesn’t take much to inflict pain, to go along with the way world bends, to treat others as you have been treated, but loving others as you would like to be loved is a fight against the tide. You will often meet resistance in the form of distrust, since many previously unloved folks are accustomed to being treated like they are an inconvenience, or conversely, a charity case. Not only that, but the folks who “know the truth” will try to tell you that your fight is futile and that the work has already been done for you. They will insist that you are trying to earn some sort of favor with God, rather than understanding that you are just trying to take that Jesus guy seriously.

Fact is, there is hope all around us. There are people who would rather die than kill and seek the good of folks around them at the cost of their own comfort. In a world where death sits on the throne, for me the only way to live is as a conscientious objector. Our rebel king gave us a Way, not just a new fairy tale to believe in so we can feel settled as the storms come.  I say bring on the storms! Somehow life will always break through, and I want to be a part of the kingdom that fights fire with water, not a passenger waiting for my ship to come save me from the treacherous waters.

Maybe in the end Rick and his friends will realize that their existence is not worth holding onto until they have given up the fight to stay alive. Self preservation is one of our worst enemies and it causes us to neglect the people who would enrich our lives the most. Our lives defined by comfort and stability are as life-threatening as the dangers facing the folks in The Walking Dead. May we take risks that will awake us from our zombie-like state.

For more on the kind of life I am trying to describe, read my friend Ryan’s blog here.

-dave-

look alive

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my valentine

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as of today, my lilly and i have been together for 14 years, 1 month and 8 days (with an 8 month gap in between, but who’s counting). we met in high school, where she thought she could win me over by playing a game in which she repeated every word i said. somehow, this timeless tactic won me over. i was lovestruck.

we have grown up together. i know her and she knows me more fully than anyone else. despite our familiarity with each other, i still find myself getting excited to see her when she’s been at work all day or am eager to talk with her when she calls me in the middle of one of her long shifts.

unfortunately, it’s also true that familiarity breeds complacency. as such, i’ve been guilty of giving more of myself, showing more love, dispensing more mercy and listening more intently to the folks i serve than to my beloved wife. this is a crime.

it is because i know her so well that i love her. she is compassionate, strong-willed, soft-hearted and brilliant (not to mention, she is way out of my league in the looks department). she has been an inspiration to many, including myself, in the way she has handled the daunting task of processing haitian adoptions. she has spent many sleepless night working to help others in their adoption process, even while ours has been uncertain. it is because i know her and see her heart that i love her so much.

strangely enough, it is because i know her so well that i have been slow to offer my whole self to her, as i have to folks that i’ve barely known, many of whom were part of my life one day and gone the next. my unwitting withholding cannot be attributed to anything she has done, but is a bi-product of losing sight of real love as our time together increases.

lump this together with the great danger looming before anyone who walks in the brand of shoes i have chosen to wear and you have a potential issue with priorities. when you offer yourself up for the sake of others (or at least try to), you are constantly at risk of undervaluing the people you love the most. what’s most damning is that it’s not as though i wasn’t aware of this pitfall. i was always convinced that i wouldn’t make the same mistakes as others who have gone before me. alas, i have committed the same crime. this marital negligence indicts me as a hypocrite, proving me incapable of practicing the long-suffering love of Christ that i have come to know and proclaim.

my advice to others (and myself) is to always be conscious of the fact that it’s easier to “love” someone you barely know. kindness is a luxury we often afford the people we engage with in passing. but my heart belongs to the girl i committed to in the summer of 2003. what i’ve neglected in the past can’t be undone. all i can do now is release the parts of me i’ve been holding back. happy valentine’s day lilly.

-dave-

pearls and pigs

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“do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” matthew 7:6 esv

we have been going through the sermon on the mount to kick off our landing community meetings every week, and last week we finally made it to this little jewel. all of the folks in attendance had heard this passage before, and each person had, at some point in time, been told that the dogs and pigs referenced in matthew’s gospel were a depiction of “the lost,” or “unrepentant sinners” (i love using that term, especially when directly addressing the pigs! ;-)).” while we entertained some other possibilities of what Jesus may have meant by following up his directive to abstain from judgment with this strange expression (at least to modern readers), we landed (get it!) on an entirely different shore.

our goal is to take the context of each passage very seriously. so from our vantage point, it seems that the landscape surrounding this section on judgment depicts Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of the heavens and what it looks like when people live on earth as it exists in the heavens.

Jesus is speaking to a “chosen” people. his disciples (the hebrew people) saw themselves and their forefathers as bearers of the divine torch. other nations (gentiles) were dogs and pigs, seen as anti-god in every way, shape and form. as you might imagine, the sinful practices of these non-jews (as viewed through eyes of this holy people group), damned them to live in the sights of god’s holy and awful wrath. someday, it was believed, these wretched sinners would get what they deserved. it appears that Jesus is combatting this prejudice, demanding introspection over and above condemnation.

so when Jesus tells his disciples not to judge, he gives them a clear warning that if and when they fall into the trap of sticking their hand into someone else’s eye they leave themselves open for an attack. for these “chosen” people, the idea that they might be as susceptible to judgment as a gentile would be quite the stinger. i think it should sting equally today, if we’re being honest…

the pearl is me. when i slam the gavel on someone else, i throw myself to people (any and every human on the planet) who have no business handling such a precious jewel (me!). inevitably (and justifiably), i have become the target of the person i have just labeled a pig or a dog, a person unworthy of god’s love. i deserve to be attacked and trampled on when i have placed labels on folks that only belong in the hands of the divine.

when we judge other people we expose ourselves, opening up the floodgates for a river of judgment, as we are most assuredly hypocrites. may we learn to give our neighbors and enemies the same kind of charity we give ourselves when we fall short of the kingdom’s standards.

-dave-

jesus, the most radical humanitarian

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in my last post, i lamented about what seems to be a piece of lumber lodged in the eye of the american church. this time i’m taking on the role of apologist. you see, i remain a part of the christian church for many reasons, primarily because (like it or not) it is my family. i was born into the evangelical world and i remain inside the belly of the beast (i mean that in the most endearing possible way).

as fervently as i’ve tried, i haven’t been able to come up with a good enough reason to pack my bags. every system, every religion, every club is broken and in need of exhaustive repair. the evangelical christian church of america being no different, i remain a participating member while assuming the role of conscientious objector in regard to most of her political engagement.

all that said, i want to brag about the tradition into which i was born and raised. more specifically, i am proud of being raised in a family that led me to know about jesus. not the jesus that claims to be pro life while supporting the murder of criminals and adversaries in foreign lands, or the jesus who preaches self defense over cross bearing. no, i was introduced to the jesus of 1st century palestine who would rather lay down his life for his enemies than lay a finger on them. this same jesus incited his followers mimic his way for the sake of people who remain on the outskirts of society to this day. this includes prostitutes, women seeking abortions, drug addicts and people who work for the IRS.

as far as i can tell, there is no system, religion or philosophy conceived in the minds of human beings that has called upon its adherents to give more of themselves than the person, jesus of nazareth. think about it. even the most humanitarian groups stop short of non-retaliation, judging others and enemy love. jesus personified what he hoped to create in this world; a community of people living for the sake of those who have had their lives taken away from them.

admittedly, my family has played a major role in sucking the life out of already down and out folks. for this, there are no amount of condolences to be expressed.  but the jesus i have come to know died as a friend of “sinners,” believing them to be worthy of all his time and energy. it is this radical humanitarianism that i feel unworthy to have come to understand and aspire. it is the kingdom he raved about and embodied that brings healing wherever it goes. there is nothing more beautiful or true.

for all the lamenting i do about the imprint my family has left on american society, i am eternally grateful for the stain left by the cross of christ.

are we any better?

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what makes us any different than our ancestors?

i’ve been reading a book called “the cross and the lynching tree” by james cone, which makes the case that the lynching of black folks in america (between 1880 and 1960) is directly relatable to the cross of jesus. cone makes a strong case in this regard, but there is something far more troubling, to me, than the correlation between the cross of christ and the tree that our black brothers and sisters hung from; it is that the church was overwhelmingly silent.

can it be that it was simply a blind spot for the american church during this era, or is there a less charitable answer to this horrifying reality? it seems that many white christians were not blind to this injustice, but were fully aware of the lynchings and segregation that occurred during this time period. however, it remains true that their silence was heard more loudly than the voices of those who spoke out.

can it be that in their worship services and songs, white christians were worshipping a god that had nothing to do with setting the captives free? how is it that white slave owners, proponents of segregation, even sympathetic bystanders to the cause of black folks were able to read luke 4:18 and believe they were in the right to stand by while black folks were unjustly held prisoner?

the hymns composed long ago, along with songs being written today, proclaim the incredible work accomplished by jesus on earth. he shattered racial and class barriers, bringing shame to the people who believed themselves to be righteous and called by God? when did we become the kind of people who, though embracing the forgiveness accomplished on the cross, would subsequently take the whip and hammer to hoist jesus onto the cross over and over again (matthew 25:40)?

i’m not sure what part to play in soothing the pain of slavery, lynching and segregation. i only know that if i were enslaved or discriminated against for reasons pertaining only to the color of my skin, i would hope that someone would come to my aid. i would hope that someone might have mercy on me and my family. would my hopes and prayers reach the same blind eyes and deaf ears of our ancestors from only a few generations ago? are we any better than that?

i hope to never fully comprehend the anguish of having my child unjustly lynched simply because she is white. even now my heart is broken that our ancestors were so unflinchingly violent towards a race of people that were ripped out from their homeland to cultivate ours at the cost of their lives. are we any different than those who came before us? do we care more about abstaining from impure thoughts and stopping gay marriage than we do the fact that an entire culture has been forced into the poorest sections of our country? who knows what it would be like today had it not been for people like william lloyd garrison and martin luther king, jr…

nowadays, everyone would rather forget about slavery and lynching. i don’t want to be so intense about this, but i just can’t forget the fact that we forced the cross we were meant to bear onto innocent men, women and children. mlk shouldered the cross for black folks in america, all the while loving his white oppressors. which of our ancestors would we most like to resemble? oppressed or oppressor?

-dave-